Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Two things that are guaranteed to radically change your marriage

There are two things you can start doing right now that are guaranteed to radically change your marriage. Sound too good to be true? They really do work. Doesn't mean they're easy, but you will see immediate results.

Step One

First, think of marriage from an eternal perspective. I've know this to be true for a long time. But the hard part is putting it into practical terms. How do you imagine marriage in light of something that is infinite and eternal? It's like trying to comprehend the size of a galaxy. Our minds are not big enough to gain that kind of perspective. 

But there is a practical step you can take to get there. In the book You and Me Forever, Francis Chan shares how he approaches this. He tries to imagine himself standing before God for the first time. What would it feel like? How would he respond?
Oddly, I meet very few people who think about that moment. Is it because we don't really believe it's going to happen? We think about upcoming vacations and imagine how much fun we will have. We think about upcoming trials and worry about how difficult they will be. Why don't we think about seeing God for the first time? I'll try to think about it often because it keeps me centered. This is also why I imagine Lisa [his wife] seeing God for the first time. I love her, so I want her to be ready for it. (p.24)
What are the benefits of doing this? 
Eternal-mindendness keeps us from silly arguments. There's no time to fight. We have better things to pursue than our interest. Too much is at stake! God created us for a purpose. We can't afford to waste our lives. We can't afford to waste our marriage by merely pursuing our own happiness. (p.11)
A strange thing happened when [we] started living with an eternal lens: it caused us to enjoy the here and now! Many people will tell you to focus on your marriage, to focus on each other; but we discovered that focusing on God's mission made our marriage amazing. This caused us to experience Jesus deeply—what could be better?
Not easy at all - but I think you'll find if you begin to employ the intentional practice of considering your marriage in light of eternity, it will have a profound affect on the way you live and love each other now.

Step Two

The second is one I've heard Dennis Rainey talk about time and again: Praying Together. Again, the Chans offer these thoughts on why this is so critical to the health of your marriage:
Remember that there is an enemy who is seeking to destroy your marriage. Our battle is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12), so we can't safeguard our marriages through more date nights, more vacations, or more counseling. Those things are not bad, but we have to see that there is more going on. Sincere and concentrated prayer will do infinitely more than any human strategy for a happy marriage. "The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working" (James 5:16). (p.29)
It's hard to believe that these two things can make such a difference in marriage, but they really can. 

Try a one week experiment with a morning and evening approach:

In the mornings, do step one. Here's how you can approach it: Take 3 minutes and imagine yourself standing before God. Imagine how it feels, what you would hear, what you would see. Then take 3 minutes and imagine your spouse standing before God. Also imagine what he or she would feel, see, hear. Also imagine what they would look like to you in that moment. Then take 3 minutes and pray about how this vision affects your marriage today.

Next, in the evening, take 3 minutes to pray with your spouse. Simply pray for the things that came to mind in the morning. Or pray for your kids together and the biggest challenges facing your family. Make sure to begin by giving thanks for all the things that are going well in your marriage and family.

Try it for a week and see what happens.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Imitation of Christ - on humility

Of grace concealed by humility:

"It is seldom the case that they who are self-wise endure humbly to be governed by others. Better it is to have a small portion of good sense with humility, and a slender understanding, then great treasures of many sciences with vain self- pleasing. Better it is for thee to have little, then much of that which may make thee proud."

From The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis

Friday, February 10, 2017

Disciplines of a Godly Man: How one book made me read more better books

Further up and further in - a Narnian like experience

In college I read the book Disciplines of a Godly Man with two friends. One of the other guys happened upon it and thought we should check it out. Yet since I hadn't heard of it, I was skeptical (how arrogant... which was pretty par for the course at the time). The book had a tremendous influence on my life and cemented a life-long friendship with both of those guys.

There were two parts of the book that have stuck with me the longest: the Bible reading plan and the reading survey.

The Bible reading plan was the first chronological version I had seen. It's not really all that special, but for some reason it stuck with me and lead to many years of reading through the entire Bible over the course of the year.

But the reading survey was what really blew my mind. Here's a brief explanation: The author (R. Kent Hughes) surveyed a number of influential Christian teachers, pastors, and authors, and asked the following questions:
  1. What are five books, secular or sacred, which have influenced you the most?
  2. Of those books, which is your favorite?
  3. What is your favorite novel?
  4. What is your favorite biography?
Some of whom he interviewed were James M. Boice,  Bryan Chappell, Chuck Colson, Jim Dobson, Elisabeth Elliot, Howard Hendricks, Carl F. Henry, Jerry Jenkins, Harold Lindsell, Robertson McQuilkin, J.I. Packer, Pagie Patterson, Eugene Peterson, Haddon Robinson, R.C. Sproul, Chuck Swindoll, and Warren Wiersbe.

Some heavy hitters!

Other than the Bible, here's a list of the books that were mentioned more than once:
Mere Christianity (10)
Calvin's Institutes (8)
The Pursuit of God by Tozer (6)
My Utmost for His Highest (5)
Brothers Karamazov (5)
Anna Karenina (5)
Pilgrim's Progress (5)
Shadow of the Almighty (4)
Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret (3)
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis (3)
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (2)
American Caesar by William Manchester (bio) (2)
The Last Lion by Manchester (Churchill bio) (2)
Moby Dick (2)
War and Peace (2)
Confessions by Augustine (2)
Loving God by Colson (2)
Knowing God by Packer (2)
Through the Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot (2)
NOTE: I think the list in the updated version of the book is different from the original. So I kept some on this list that do not appear in the most recent version.

The list was a revelation to me - like a wardrobe door into a strange and wonderful world I never knew existed. What were these books that so many adored? I must get to know them!

I have since read most all the books on this list (minus an unabridged version of Moby Dick, American Caesar, and I'm currently working on Through the Gates of Splendor). And I've been amazed by how much these works have shaped my life. In a future post I'll write my own answers to these questions. And I'd love to hear your answers as well.

But for now I'll offer some thought on a few of the books from the above list.

Mere Christianity
Other than the Bible, there's been no book that's had as much influence on shaping my life as this one. Reading it in college started a life long love of Lewis' works. Every Christian should read this multiple times. When I read Tim Keller I often think he seems like a modern C.S. Lewis, tackling the questions to Christianity the culture raises.

Calvin's Institutes
Didn't read this till after seminary, but I was utterly shocked by how accessible and relevant to everyday life Calvin's writing was. I've heard amazing things about this volume in particular. It's shorter than many of the versions offered today, but not because it's a modern abridgment. It is one of the earlier versions Calvin published, before some of the expanded material was added (I think something like 5 different editions were published in Calvin's lifetime). I'd encourage every Christian to eventually read through it. Maybe break it up into segments and tackle it over a few years.

My Utmost for His Highest
Growing up it seemed that many people in my church kept this volume next to their Bible and their copy of Experiencing God. It was a standard daily devotional, a notch above My Daily Bread. I first started working through it as a Sophomore in college, but found it over my head. I took a step back, worked through a Swindoll devo, and when I returned to it, my heart was ready to absorb the depths it offered. Definitely worth picking up, and its beauty is in its brevity, at one small page and one verse per day.

Anna Karenina by Tolstoy
Teddy Roosevelt read this while floating down a half-frozen river in South Dakota, in hot pursuit of a boat thief. I read it sitting in a comfortable chair at home. But the story was riveting. Especially the character development contrasts between the Anna and Levin. Some say Tolstoy infused himself in the character of Levin. Definitely worth reading, especially as a warning against the deception of following your heart.

Shadow of the Almighty by Elisabeth Elliot
Incredible story of how God worked through Jim Elliot and other young missionaries to reach a remote people group in Ecuador. Their martyrdom by those very people they tried to reach was a great tragedy, yet also launched a powerful missions movement. It definitely stirred me to consider what God had in store for my future.

Hudson Taylor's Spiritual SecretAmazing story, but what stood out was how Taylor, as a young man in America, totally focused his life, every aspect of it, around preparing for the hardships of the mission field in remote China. He created difficult living conditions for himself (like sleeping on the floor) and began learning Chinese by comparing an English Bible to a Chinese Bible. It's rare to run across someone that has such focus and clarity of purpose at such a young age.

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis 
Still working through this but find it a rich well of spiritual encouragement. I nibble on a short section at a time. Works great as a follow up to My Utmost for His Highest. It's amazing how often this work is mentioned by other spiritual giants, like C.S. Lewis. No coincidence since it is the most widely read Christian work ever written, besides the Bible.

The Great Divorce by C.S. LewisThis book blew my mind. Especially his depiction of those that are in hell and why they are there. The imagery of the lizard locked onto the shoulder of one of the characters reminded me of Eustace (i.e. Narnia) and his own lizard skin predicament. I left the book praying that I would be able to get my eyes off myself and avoid endless empty-prattle and self-delusionment modeled by many on the bus.

The Last Lion by Manchester
Those who have read much on Churchill often label the Manchester volumes as masterful. Yet they are not easy reads and can be intimidating to some. Friends who know I'm a Churchill fan often ask about a starter book on Churchill. There really is no starter book on Churchill, but two that will do are his own biography about his early life, called (wait for it...), My Early Life. And I just finished an audio book that was an outstanding overview of his life, called Churchill the Prophetic Statesman. Both are good starters. I've also heard great things about the bio by the former Mayor of London. Also have on my reading list for this year a new book by Candice Millard. She wrote one of my favorite books on Teddy Roosevelt, about his journeys up the Amazon, and now she's turned out a volume chronicling Churchill's POW escape in South Africa. I've read Churchill's version of the story in his own bio, but I'm suspecting Millard can bring the tale to life in a new way. So I'll be moving these two works up my list for this year.

War and Peace
Probably my favorite novel of all time. When I closed the cover, it felt like I lost friends. Need to re-read. It's worth carving out the time.

Confessions by AugustineI couldn't believe that such an iconic figure of church history could be so candid about his own struggles. So many will relate to his battle with sin, and it's especially encouraging for those that come to know Christ later in life. It's also noteworthy that he had a mistress and a child out of wedlock before Christ, and yet still was used nightly by God to shape the church.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Surprising Links Between Lincoln and his Killer

Last year I listened through the book Killing Lincoln by Bill O'Reilly. I was hesitant to listen at first because of my love for Manhunt by James Swanson. Since O'Reilly's book came out after Swanson's book, it appeared O'Reilly was trying to ride the wave of Swanson's work, which felt a bit opportunistic to me. But since there are something like 50 biographies published on Lincoln ever year, let's chalk it up as a timing issue and move on.

O'Reilly's book covers the topic of Lincoln's death more broadly than Swanson, also addressing the events leading up to the end of the war and some of the conspiracy issues surrounding Lincoln's death. So it was enough of a different take to make it interesting and compelling.

But what was especially intriguing was the connection between Lincoln's oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, and John Wilkes Booth. The connection was mainly through two avenues. 

The first is that they both were sweet on the same girl, Lucy Hale. And though Booth was secretly engaged to Hale, yet Robert Lincoln still kept in touch with Hale, even spending the afternoon before his father's assassination with her. And he was not her only suitor. O'Reilly explains: 
Like Booth, she is used to having her way with the opposite sex, attracting beaus with a methodical mix of flattery and teasing.... among those enraptured with Miss Hale is a future Supreme Court justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., now a twenty-four-year-ld Union officer. Also John Hay, one of Lincoln's personal secretaries. And, finally, none other than Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s twenty-one-year-old son, also a Union officer. Despite her engagement to Booth, Lucy still keeps in touch with both Hay and Lincoln, among many others.....
But [by March of 1865]..., their relationship has become strained. They have begun to quarrel. It doesn't help that Booth flies into a jealous rage whenever Lucy so much as looks at another man. One night, in particular, he went mad at the side of her dancing with Robert Lincoln. Whether or not this has anything to do with his pathological hatred for the president will never be determined. (p.28)
The second connection was with John Wilkes Booth's brother Edwin. Like his brother, Edwin was a well-known actor whom Lincoln had seen perform on a number of occasions. But Edwin's value to the President was so much greater than his entertainment value. Again, O'Reilly explains:
During one two-month span in the winter of 1864, [Lincoln] saw Richard IIIThe Merchant of VeniceHamlet, and, of course, Julius Caesar. The actor playing all the lead roles was Edwin booth, John's older brother. In addition to his acting, he did the Lincolns an inadvertent favor by saving the life of their eldest son. When twenty-year-old Union officer Robert Todd Lincoln was shoved from a crowded railway platform into the path of an oncoming train, it was Edwin Booth who snatched him by the collar and pulled him back to safety.
Robert never mentioned the incident to his father, but his commanding officer, Ulysses S. Grant, personally wrote a letter of thanks to the actor. Edwin's brother's reaction to this incident has never been determined – if he knew at all. (p.123)
One Booth saved a Lincoln and another Booth killed a Lincoln. 

Lastly, there's one other fascinating story I've heard a number of times but wanted to capture here, as it almost seems unbelievable. The story goes that when it was time for Grant to accept Lee's final surrender, they needed a place to meet near the final battlefield:
Lee sends his aid Colonel Charles Marshall up the road to find a meeting place. Marshall settles on a simple home. By a great twist of fate, the house belongs to a grocery named Wilmer McLean, who moved to Appomattox Court House to escape the war. A cannonball had landed in his fireplace during the first battle of Bull Run, at the very start of the conflict. Fleeing to a quieter corner of Virginia was his way of protecting his family from harm.
But the Civil War once again finds Wilmer McLean. He and his family are asked to leave the house. Soon, Lee marches up the front steps and takes a seat in the parlor. Again, he waits. (p.78)

McLean's timing was uncanny. And yet even more surprising, was the timing of Lincoln's son once again, who also appeared at the surrender. Nor was this the end of his coincidental appearances, being an eye witness to the assassination of another president: James Garfield, and being nearby when William McKinley was shot.